My Disability Matters Club

Accepting who I am…

My name is Peter and I had quadruple heart bypass surgery when I was 47.

At 6am, 31st July 2003, I was taking my morning shower as I usually do before heading off to work. In the shower I experienced dizziness that was similar to being in a swivel chair and being spun around and around. All I could do was hold the wall of the shower to try to stop the spinning. I thought it was the steam and the cold air in the bathroom making me dizzy. I turned off the shower and sat on the toilet, then the dizziness and spinning began to stop.

I told my wife straight away, so we went to visit the doctor first thing. From then on my nightmare began. The doctor ordered an ambulance to collect me from the surgery. The doctor wasn’t taking any chances and wanted me in hospital immediately – my heart was failing. I became an emergency patient.

As soon as they got me to the hospital and into coronary care they continued to try and stabilise me. My heart was still failing. They prepared me for a coronary angiogram and performed the procedure early next morning only to find that all four main arteries of my heart were blocked. I had only 10% blood flow; an emergency quadruple bypass operation was needed to save my life.

All the time that I was in the hospital the nurses and doctors constantly kept asking me, “How’s your pain?” I told them every time that I had not experienced any pain from the beginning – even when I was in the shower – and never have. “I never had any pain whatsoever at any time.” Only the dizziness and spinning that one time in shower. I was a diabetic and the doctors say that diabetics rarely experience pain during heart attacks.

I was transported to a hospital that was capable to perform the operation. I knew that I was dying and I must say that I never had much time to even really think about it. The chaplain of the hospital, a Catholic priest, asked me do I want to be given the last rights before the operation. This action made me really believe that I was in serious trouble. I never had the pains that heart attack victims experienced, only the dizziness and spinning in the shower, nothing else! I felt fine, I felt like they were wasting their time on me. I wanted to go home.

I put my total trust in the medical staff and accepted that I was in deep trouble. All my family had visited me just before I went in to the operation. I was expiring.

During the operation the surgeon took arteries from both my arms and grafted them in four places bypassing the blocked ones on my heart. The operation took 6 hours and was a success.

I remember waking up listening to the ventilator operating and not being able to speak because of the breathing tube I had in my mouth which fed into my lungs. I couldn’t see the two tubes protruding out of my chest which were draining fluids from around my lungs. As I woke up I saw my wife, son were there sitting at my bedside looking at me and holding my hands. I could hear buzzers and beeps from the computer monitoring systems and then the nurse removed the ventilator because I started breathing on my own. I was in no pain at all. The surgeon said there was no damage to my heart and no angina – just 4 very blocked arteries.

When the nurse was taking out the tube which was fed into my lungs I must say that this was the most frightening experience that I have ever encountered. She told me to cough as she pulled it out. As soon as she removed it my body started to shake slowly and then faster and faster. My heart started to beat irregularly and very fast. I saw the nurses and doctors fixed looking at the monitors and not at me. I said to the nurse to stop moving the bed! She told me it was my heart that was shaking my body. Then I became very frightened.

For the first time in my life I could feel my heart pounding without placing my hands on my chest. Then I felt my heart as if it was burning, the doctors were administering a drug through a tube which entered my neck. My heart slowed and started beating normally and the looks on the faces of the medical staff were satisfied and glad. Then I insisted I wanted to talk to my wife immediately. It was 5am in the morning and the staff arranged the call. I just wanted to hear her voice just once more. I was very frightened. I thought I was going to die.

Things got much better the next hour or so and I started to adapt to the helpless situation I was in. I was totally dependent on people to get me back on my feet. I was always a man who didn’t need any help from anybody till now. I felt very ashamed of myself.

The nurse told me to try and take deep breaths and hold them in for a while to try and inflate my lungs to normal. I had trouble inflating my right lung so they strapped a mask tightly to my face and turned on a compressor of some sort that forced more air into my lungs than I would normally take in while taking a deep breath. This procedure was not painful at all, in fact I felt it helping me breath much better. After a while my lungs were inflated to normal condition.

The rest of my stay in ICU was very comfortable. Having the drain tubes removed from my chest did not hurt at all but when the nurses removed the tube that was entered into my neck and was fed into my heart, I must say that I felt them pulling it out all the way from my heart as well as the two wires that were poking out of my chest. It was a relief to have the tube out of my neck. I was always uncomfortable with it being there.

After being 5 days in hospital I was allowed to go home. My scars healed fast considering I am diabetic. The pain killing medication (Oxicontin) for my sternum pain worked very fast and was delightful. After the first one I took I always looked forward to taking the next one. I can now imagine how people can easily get hooked on drugs.

Three weeks after my operation (and doing many jigsaw puzzles my surgeon allowed me to go back to work providing it was very light duties and no heavy lifting and no driving a car at all. It was twelve weeks in total before I could get behind the wheel of a car.

I attended the rehabilitation classes at the hospital and eventually was given the OK to get back to trying to live a normal life again.

When I was given the permission to drive again, I became very nervous when having someone else as a passenger in the car with me. For a long time I was afraid of having something go wrong with me while driving and end up having an accident and hurting them and others around.

I began to always drive in the slow lane at all times and always stayed there unless I had to make a turn. My confidence with driving was damaged badly and even now I still prefer my wife or someone else to drive.

I have not had any problems after the surgery. My heart did not get damaged at all and the scars have healed well but are always a visible reminder of what happened to me. The only scar I have trouble with is a mental traumatic disorder that I have of the the event in the ICU immediately after the operation when I saw that death was close. I would and still do at times break down in fear of that event, so I must continue on with my life and try and cope with it.

Every morning since, I wake up with my thoughts of being very mortal. Before that morning shower in July 2003, I felt I was untouchable and never really thought about death at all. I wish I could think like that again, but know that I never will. My life has changed….


Fourteen Years On

It’s been fourteen years since I had the Quadruple Heart Bypass and during those years I have been lucky enough to stay as healthy as I could other than my hips and knees know riddled with arthritis. I have now been close to the beyond five times with my heart failing, sneeking up on me with the symptoms of being out of breath and always tired, I was so out of breath that I had trouble walking any distance at all and I felt tired even after sleeping

My Doctor sent me to have a X-rays and ECG done only to see that my heart was enlarged and beating irregularly also I had fluid in my lungs, then a visit to my Cardiologist who sent me to have blood work done and a Echocardiograph (TTE) then I was fitted with a 24hr Holter Monitor (Ambulatory). With the results of these test’s I was told that I’ve had a silent heart attacks, silent being because I am a Diabetic. (Sometimes I wish I could feel the attack pains so I would at least know that I was in trouble).

The Cardiologist said that I needed to have an Angiogram done. (The last time I had this done was fourteen years ago when I was told that I had to have a Quadruple Heart Bypass). This time the Angiogram showed my arteries stayed clean and no blockages, I thank God that I didn’t have to go through heart surgery again, but my heart has been damaged with the silent heart attacks.

I was told I needed a ICD Pacemaker with a Difibulator to zap my heart whenever it decides to stop and have a rest. My hearts electrics were damaged.

Since having the ICD Pacemaker fitted I feel much better and feeling better every day. This was the fifth time I’ve been close to death I don’t know why I’m still here. I still have trouble with PTSD from my first episode fourteen years ago but I feel that it’s getting better every day….

Well there it is. Best of Health and Regards to all….Peter Pisani


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